A glimpse at life in Saskatchewan's locked-down care homes

Residents and workers in Saskatchewan long-term care homes are settling into a new normal, trying to stay busy and safe while loved ones are barred from visiting.

Skype with loved ones, workers stretched thin

Some of the daily programming offered at Sherbrooke Community Centre has been put on pause to keep residents safe. (Melissa Mancini/CBC)

Residents and workers in Saskatchewan long-term care homes are settling into a new normal, trying to stay busy and safe while loved ones are barred from visiting.

Dr. Marion Smart, 75, lives in Saskatoon's Parkridge Centre special care home. The retired University of Saskatchewan animal medicine professor has mobility issues caused by Parkinson's disease and multiple knee surgeries.

Still, she's sharp as a tack and not afraid to speak her mind.

Smart called the CBC Saskatchewan newsroom from her room at Parkridge, but wasn't looking to talk about her own plight as a senior in lockdown. She wanted to highlight the hard work her care aides have been doing.

"They're overworked and under-recognized," she said Thursday. "I really feel that these people are the unsung heroes of this whole disaster."

Smart said the workload has dramatically increased for aides since care homes were prohibited from allowing outside visitors.

Dr. Marion Smart is a resident at Saskatoon's Parkridge Centre special care home. (Submitted by Marion Smart)

Previously, family members or friends who visited would help feed their loved ones or carry out tasks like shaving and grooming — providing a little relief for the care aides and allowing them to attend to other urgent matters.

Now, care workers are operating without family relief, all while trying to figure out ways for the residents to communicate with loved ones outside the home.

"Fortunately I'm somewhat computer literate, so I've got Skype and I've got FaceTime so I can communicate with my granddaughter," Smart said. "They're trying to train the people in here that are not computer literate to do that as well."

Smart said the new normal in the care home still features some of the old staples of life. She still takes part in her recreational therapy group, although the group is smaller now that physical distancing measures are in place.

She said the residents can move about the atrium, but most time is spent isolated in personal rooms. Smart's favourite place to go and relax before the pandemic was in the library, beside the windows that brought warm sunlight in.

Now the library has been closed to limit any risk of spreading germs.

Adapting to new circumstances

Across the city at Sherbrooke Community Centre, residents and staff are settling into a new normal.

"It's been a very unique three weeks," said communications leader Eric Anderson.

Some of the daily programming at Sherbrooke has been put on pause, Anderson said. The art studio and therapy gym are closed and the community day program provided for around 50 residents who need some extra care is also on hiatus.

He said limiting programming has allowed the centre to redeploy staff so that each living unit, or "neighbourhood," actually has more staff than usual.

"There's still lots of art happening, there's still physical therapy happening," he said.

Residents at Sherbrooke have embraced Skype for talking to their loved ones, Anderson said. The facility had to add new Wi-Fi hot spots for the extra load on the internet.

"Our staff are going above and beyond," Anderson said.

More staff wanted

Back at Parkridge, Marion Smart reminisced about some of the simpler pleasures from before the pandemic. Small things, like being able to sit and talk to the care home staff, have been lost in the shuffle.

"When they would come into my room sometimes I'd have my music on and we'd start singing and having a good time," she recalled. "But if they don't have time for that it stresses them and it stresses you because you don't want to bother them."

Smart has been impressed by the hard work her care aides have done despite being stretched thin, but said she wishes there was more staff to lessen the load.

"It would be ideal to have at least one worker dealing with a maximum of four people rather than 20," she said.

"That would allow them to do their job with satisfaction, rather than with haste."


Brian Rodgers is a videojournalist and producer with CBC Saskatchewan.


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